Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The BBC gets it wrong on hard-boiled fiction

(At right, poster for a movie based on Ernest Hemingway's effort in a genre previously pioneered by Carroll John Daly and perfected by Dashiell Hammett.)

In a recent BBC program about Raymond Chandler, John Sutherland asserts that Ernest Hemingway invented the hard-boiled story with "The Killers." He makes this assertion even though Dashiell Hammett had already published more than twenty Continental Op stories when "The Killers" appeared in 1927 (Not 1928, as Sutherland says. He gets the year wrong, too.)

Hammett had already written and published "The Girl With the Silver Eyes," "The House in Turk Street," "The Golden Horseshoe," "The Whosis Kid," "The Gutting of Couffignal" and "The Big Knockover" by the time Ernest Hemingway "invented" the hard-boiled story, in other words.

Why do you think the BBC got it wrong? Is John Sutherland so insecure or such a snob that he has to invent a noble lineage for hard-boiled writing to justify his own affinity for it? Or is the man who shoots Princess Zafrina in the leg at the end of "The Gutting of Couffignal" really soft-boiled in some essential way that Hemingway's characters were not?

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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45 Comments:

Blogger Becky (Page Turners) said...

I haven't read the books referred to by my thoughts are these:
Either this John Sutherland bloke has his own idea of what comprises the hardboiled style and he doesn't think that those Hammett books count as hard boiled - or - there is avery researcher somewhere...

One of my biggest reading goals this year is to read more of Hammett and Chandlers' books and explore this hard boiled style of crime fiction - now I will add The Killers to my list.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note, Becky. I suspect you give Mr. Sutherland too much credit. My guess would be that his thinking is rooted in an era before critics were prepared to accept that a genre writer such as Hammett could count as a serious author. One might accept hard-boiled writing as worthy of consideration as long as one gives it a noble ancestor in the Nobel laureate Hemingway rather than the pulp author Hammett. (As it happens, some of the Hammett criticism I've been reading suggests that the influence may have flowed from Hammett to Hemingway, and not the other way round. Each certainly knew the other's writing.)

Even though the program was about Chandler and not about Hammett or Hemingway, anyone who implies that the Continental Op stories are not hard-boiled owes his authors an explanation.

You have some good reading ahead of you.

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, Your reply to Becky went up after I had previewed my comment below. We touch on some of the same issues...Including "some of the Hammett criticism I've been reading suggests that the influence may have flowed from Hammett to Hemingway, and not the other way round. Each certainly knew the other's writing" -- absolutely right. And Chandler was quite infatuated with Hemingway as he began his pulp writing.

My comment, pre-reading of yours is:

Well, Carroll John Daly, is generally cited as the first hard-boiled (detective) story writer. His story "Three Gun Terry" appeared in the 12/22 issue of Black Mask while Hammett's first Op story appeared in 10/23.

Of course, today Daly is mostly an answer to a trivia question and his fiction read by few hardy souls other than those hard-boiled fans who've got to read everything under the "hard-boiled" banner.

From what I know of John Sutherland he's a pompous, self-appointed arbiter of what is "important literature." For such literary critics, Hemingway must always be seen as more important than that mystery-writing guy, Hammett, even if one has to tinker with the two writers' timelines and ignore what Hammett was writing in order to do so, as did Sheldon Grebstein in his essay "The Tough Hemingway and His Hard-Boiled Children," in Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, ed. David Madden, So. Illinois Univ. Press, 1968. <= an excellent book, by the way; a number of readable and influential essays.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I know Carroll John Daly beat Hammett under the hard-boiled wire, but his hard-boiled stuff was hardly up to the standard of Hammett's.

I'm not sure Sutherland is pompous as much as he is a mouthpiece of old, received opinions.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Of course, today Daly is mostly an answer to a trivia question and his fiction read by few hardy souls other than those hard-boiled fans who've got to read everything under the "hard-boiled" banner."

An interesting presentation at the first Noircon acknowledged that Daly's hard-boiled stuff makes tedious reading today but suggested that some of his non-hard-boiled writing was better.

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, I know you knew "Carroll John Daly beat Hammett under the hard-boiled wire," because, if for no other reason, I know you have the Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. My comment was more towards imagining if Sutherland had heard of him (fat chance) and how he would get around him while still claiming Hemingway was the first hard-boiled writer.

Sutherland is definitely "a mouthpiece of old, received opinions" but I maintain he is also pompous. He's one of those literary critics who fancies himself as interesting as any of the writers he's ever written about. And he's a fiend for "best of"-type lists. Which makes him a darling of the popular press.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I decided not to mention Daly in my original post because to do so would have been a distraction. It would have been too easy for detractors to argue that Daly's
achievement was not comparable to Hemingway's. They can't do that with Hammett, at least not as far as hard-boiled writing.

I'm not disagreeing with you on Sutherland, merely acknowledging that I am insufficiently acquainted with him to assess his pomposity.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Mack said...

Carroll John Daly was the first to use the term hard-boiled. Race Williams refers to himself as "hard boiled" in Snarl of the Beast. I think of Race Williams as an early prototype for the Mike Hammer style of private detective.

A female character in Hammett's Red Harvest calls the Continental Op a "fat, middle-aged, hard-boiled, pig-headed guy."

How should hard boiled/hardboiled/hard-boiled be spelled anyway?

I agree with Peter, I don't see how you couldn't consider the Continental Op to be hard-boiled.

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, I really only mentioned poor old Daly because he is so easy to dismiss. And mentioning him in the same sentence as Hammett does seem a trifle blasphemous...

Speaking of Hemingway and Hammett... Have you read this anecdote?

--Ernest Hemingway also had a high opinion of "The Maltese Falcon," which drew a wry acknowledgment from Dashiell Hammett: "Must mean I'm a bad writer." The two men got along, but Hammett had little patience for Hemingway's macho displays. One night at the Stork Club, when a political discussion turned sour, Hemingway snatched up a tablespoon and bent it in the crook of his arm. "All right, kid," he said to Hammett, "let's see you do that." Refusing to take the bait, Hammett got up to leave. Hemingway grabbed his arm and pulled him back down. "No," said Hemingway, "let's see you do the spoon trick first." Hammett rose again. "I don't think I could bend the spoon," he said, quietly. "Why don't you go roll a hoop in the park?"

Of course the Op's hard-boiled! David Madden, whom I mentioned earlier, carried the banner for James M. Cain, calling him the "20-minute egg" of hard-boiled fiction. And Chandler called Paul Cain's novel Fast One a "high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner." So I guess we could compare recipes. But nobody did it better than Hammett. Period.

As for Mack's query: "How should hard boiled/hardboiled/hard-boiled be spelled anyway?"

Our style bible/dictionary, Merriam-Webster, says "hard-boiled" -- with the hyphen.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mack, thanks for the update on "hard-boiled." Red Harvest comes after "The Killers," but the Op was hard-boiled from the start in 1923. He didn't suddenly turn hard-boiled in 1929.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I had not read that anecdote. Thanks. I'm with Hammett on Hemingway's macho displays. Had Hemingway been a member of the Pen & Pencil Club. I might have grouped him with the stronzi.

I agree with you on the punctuation of hard-boiled. I am reminded of a bar gathering at the recent NoirCon when someone, hearing the phrase "bitch-slapping the synapses of your brain" and knowing what I do for a living, asked me, "Does bitch slapping take a hyphen?"

I wish I'd had the presence of mind to reply: "Bitch-slapping takes a hyphen — and likes it."

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Carroll John Daly was the first to use the expression "hard-boiled" in reference to his detective protagonist, but Oxford English Dictionary quotes Mark Twain, 1886, in its first usage example: "Hard-boiled, hide-bound grammar." By 1915 h-b was apparently in fairly widespread use in the US as it appears for the first time in American Speech. It seems to have gained ground, naturally enough, during World War I.

I remember reading the Op say something was "pretty cool" in 1925's "Dead Yellow Women." How cool! Hammett's smooth use of the vernacular frequently has been remarked upon. The post-Falcon misuse of the word "gunsel" is pretty funny, esp. in hard-boiled fiction where the author should have known better. Hammett's facility has been contrasted with Chandler's having to "re-learn" then-contemporary English until he, too, had mastered the vernacular.

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Know a bit of Yiddish, and you'll know what gunsel means. Among authors and screenwriters who knew its meaning, one wonders how many got it past the Hays Office or in-house censors.

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

This shiksa knows a few words of Yiddish. I see by OED that "gunsel" was used incorrectly for so long that it eventually came to take on a 2nd definition, the one that it had been used wrongly for for so long, i.e. "informer, a criminal, a gunman." (Man, was that a poorly written sentence; I hope you know what I mean!)

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You will know, too, that a lexicographer's term for such a mistake is folk etymology. Oh, well. It's an extra chance for knowing grins among we who know what gunsel really means.

Here's this, from my interview with Megan Abbott:

DBB: If the precedents are primarily male, why did you make the change to women in the lead roles? How does the switch affect the story? And does English even have a word for a female gansel?

MA: The limits of our language, right? Even in talking about the book, I often resort to moll, but moll suggests that the woman in question is the mistress or plaything of the (male) gangster, so it doesn't really work.

February 08, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"You will know, too, that a lexicographer's term for such a mistake is folk etymology."

No, I didn't know this term but I knew there had to be a term to describe what I (so poorly) tried to -- so thanks!

As for Megan Abbott's "moll suggests that the woman in question is the mistress or plaything of the (male) gangster, so it doesn't really work"... OED (I could hang out there all day) says, in def. 2, "A girlfriend, a sweetheart; spec. the girlfriend or female accomplice of a gangster or criminal; a female pickpocket or thief" and in the short-lived magazine Gun Molls, 1930-32, the molls were not ornamental female companions but very much their own dames, janes, skirts, you name it.

"Moll" seems to have had its earliest pejorative use (that is, pre-synonym for whore/prostitute) around 1400: "A soft or weak thing or person; spec. an effeminate man."

February 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here are two definitions of folk etymology:

1. a modification of a linguistic form according either to a falsely assumed etymology, as Welsh rarebit from Welsh rabbit, or to a historically irrelevant analogy, as bridegroom from bridegome.

2. a popular but false notion of the origin of a word.

In this case, the false notion of a word's origin created an entirely new meaning. I don't know if there is a special term for that.

Incidentally, Hammett several times used a word whose spelling is influenced by folk etymology: shamefaced or shamfacedly. As I understand the case, the spelling is influenced by the belief that the word denotes facial expression indicating shame. In fact, I have read, the word's original form was shamfast the fast as in something that grips tenaciously. Thus, shamfast denotes someone in the grip of shame or to whom shame adheres.

The OED seems to combine two definitions of moll into one: "... spec. the girlfriend or female accomplice." That's a pretty big or.

As for Megan Abbott's characters, the unnamed younger one is something like an apprentice with overtones to the book's title character, Gloria Denton. (The novel is Queenpin.)

February 09, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

And according to OED, "queenpin" (clever word, that) first appeared in "1907. J. K. Bangs in Wit & Humor of America. V. 2020. She was so strong-minded that...in the last year of her single blessedness she was the *Queen-pin among the girls of her set."

So a female apprentice to a queenpin is not a gunsel but a sort of dam-sel?

Shamefaced /Shamfast. Hmm, OED has separate etymologies for the 2 words.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"So a female apprentice to a queenpin is not a gunsel but a sort of dam-sel?"

Very nice!

My desk dictionary has shamefaced as alt. of shamfast and traces the word to 1593. It traces shamfast to the twelfth century.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

To throw a further wrench into the mix (or a hat into the ring?) There is a super tiny minority, that maybe number at best a dozen :), myself included who assert that Jim Tully should be credited as the founder of the hardboiled writing style. Or at the very least, if that claim is too outrageous for some, then his influence (and the influence of the hobo narrative at large) on the formation of the style should be acknowledged.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

From the infallible Wikipedia: "Rupert Hughes ... wrote that Tully `has fathered the school of hard-boiled writing so zealously cultivated by Ernest Hemingway and lesser luminaries.'"

You're not so much throwing a wrench into the hat or a ring into the mix as you are joining us in happily piling on John Sutherland. We are not trying to figure out who invented hard-boiled writing (The proposition that one can invent a style of writing is dubious, in any case), we are demonstrating that Sutherland was wrong and trying to figure out whether his mistake was due to ignorance, snobbery, or some other cause.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

If there was a poll on your blog I'd choose, "snob."

But if the question was to do with popularizing a style rather than inventing it then it might be different.

Or even, if the question had to do with elements of hard boiled. One thing about The Killers and also Hemingwy's Fifty Grand is that there's no detecting, no investigating.

For me that's the legacy of Hemingway. Now, of course, I've never heard of this Tull guy...

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd say somewhere between snobbery and lazy repetition of commonplaces.

Sure, the discussion might have been different had Sutherland been talking about popularizing the style rather than inventing it, but "invented" was his word. And even then, I'm not sure Hemingway popularized hard-boiled. Black Mask had been publishing hard-boiled stories for five years by the time Hemingway published "The Killers," and I don't think he wrote another story like it.

In any case, Hammett had also written several crime stories that feature no investigating before Hemingway published "The Killers."

I had never heard of Tully, either, but he sounds worth a look.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John: I should say that I recognize that Sutherland may have recognized his mistake when it was too late to do anything about it. I made a factual error when I appeared in the radio in 2009 (though of lesser magnitude thatn Sutherland's), but by the time I realized this, the program had been recorded and was out there in cyberland.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Susan said...

Did John Sutherland honestly think that Hemingway's short story created a whole genre? Especially if he didn't write any more like it? In any of the histories of mystery novels/writing that I've read, Hemingway's short story hasn't been held up as having much impact, whereas Dashiell Hammett is. Did Sutherland really mean he thought that Hemingway created the hard-boiled genre, or do you think could he have meant that Hemingway tried writing in various genres?

I linked to your post, by the way, on my post today, hoping maybe someone out there can add to this.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sutherland's exact words were:

"{Chandler} looked for vacancies and, very shrewdly, he saw that in fact there was an opening for writers oddly enough in hard-boiled detective fiction. Now, this was a genre which was really invented by somebody else, by Hemingway, with a short story in 1928 called `The Killers,' and the whole thing is done in a laconic, wise-guy, really -- hard-boiled is the phrase which is normally used ... which is very oblique, very artful."

Someone who knows a lot more about Chandler than I do says he liked Hemingway a lot. But he famously admired Hammett, and Hammett was laconic and hard-boiled before Hemingway was.

February 09, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Well, to stir the pot further, I will say that I never liked reading Hemingway, and the two books I've ready by Hammett--The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man--I did like much.

I think this entire blog thread is meant to convince the bloggers to read short stories of the 1920s by Hammett and Hemingway, at least, to weigh in on this weighty controversy.

I'm content to give credit to Hammett for many reasons--political, answering those who esteem "literary fiction," and not "mystery fiction," and personal preference. (I like the guy better!)

And although I know some Yiddish, I didn't know the "gunsel" definition. My elderly Jewish immigrant relatives weren't into discussing crimes or crime fiction. So this is new to me.

But on this word, maybe there doesn't need to be a word for a woman gangster. Maybe the existing nouns could be used, and by use of a pronoun or description within the sentence or paragraph, it would be clear.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't think one's feelings about Hemingway need have anything to do with one's feelings about hard-boiled fiction. The same John Sutherland who says Hemingway invented hard-boiled crime-writing says he moved on to other kinds of writing after "The Killers."

One reference on a Wiki site says Hammett deliberately used gunsel in The Maltese Falcon because he thought censors would mistakenly believe the word had something to do with guns and let it pass. That's from wiki and therefore not to be trusted, but it does sound plausible. I'd have to see what reputable Hammett scholars have to say on the matter, and what my own reading of Hammett leads me to believe. Your elderly Jewish relatives probably weren't much into talking about the real meaning of gunsel either, if they're like elderly Jewish relatives I know.

Though I did not intend this post as a spur to reading Hammett's short stories, that would be a worthy aim. The short stories started me on my current Hammett binge.

February 09, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I didn't know the real meaning of "gunsel" until I just looked it up on Wikipedia, if it's to be trusted.

My elderly Jewish relatives not only never discussed this, but probably were too naive to even believe or understand it. (Denial was common.)

Sounds like Hammett's short stories should be read. I can think of worse ways to spend an evening--gosh, that line sounded like my Uncle Max.

Anyway, another friend enjoyed "Murder is No Mitzvah," so again the benefit of paper books and the public library.

February 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If Dr. Seuss had written a book about gunsels, he could have called it The Catamite in the Hat.

Ooh, and here's another title: Young Gunsels.

February 09, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

On the Sutherland quote: "[Chandler] looked for vacancies and, very shrewdly, he saw that in fact there was an opening for writers oddly enough in hard-boiled detective fiction."

Crikey! That makes it sound like Chandler sat down one day, tapped the #2 Ticonderoga on his incisors, and wondered what kind of fiction he might care to write. Sheesh! He had been reading pulp crime fiction for a couple of years before he submitted his first short story to Black Mask and thought that the crime/mystery/detective story was a genre that he might have something he could contribute to.

In 1932 RTC wrote an affectionate parody of Hemingway which he entitled: "Beer in the Sergeant-Major's Hat (or The Sun Also Sneezes)"--it's published in The Raymond Chandler Notebooks--and dedicated it "with no good reason to the greatest living American novelist: Ernest Hemingway." But by 1946 the honeymoon was over: "I am becoming a pretty sour kind of citizen. Even Hemingway has let me down. I've been rereading a lot of his stuff. I would have said, here is one guy who writes like himself, and I would have been right, but not the way I meant it. Ninety per cent of it is the goddamndest self-imitation. He never really wrote but one story. All the rest is the same thing different pants--or without different pants. And his eternal preoccupation with what goes on between the sheets becomes rather nauseating in the end. One reaches a time in life when limericks written on the walls of comfort stations are not just obscene, they are horribly dull. This man has only one subject and he makes that ridiculous. I suppose the man's epitaph, if he had the choosing of it, would be: Here Lies A Man Who Was Bloody Good In Bed. Too Bad He's Alone Here...".

Remember the unnamed cop in Farewell, My Lovely that Marlowe dubs "Hemingway" because he repeats everything Marlowe says? Until the cop asks: "Who is this Hemingway person at all?" And Marlowe replies: "A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good."

But Hammett was Chandler's greatest influence on his own crime fiction, which he acknowledges in the famous 1959 "Atlantic Monthly" essay, The Simple Art of Murder: "Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn’t know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama written in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. Hammett’s style at its worst was almost as formalized as a page of Marius the Epicurean; at its best it could say almost anything. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before."

In one of his letters, Hammett, never one to preen, recommends the recipient read the AM article; it was pretty good.

February 09, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Apparently I have to break this comment in half due to the character limit...

Peter, re confirmation that "Hammett deliberately used gunsel in The Maltese Falcon because he thought censors would mistakenly believe the word had something to do with guns and let it pass.

--copied-and-pasted from an old entry at the hard-boiled online forum, Rara-Avis:

From "Getting Away with Murder," by Erle Stanley Gardner, in The Atlantic, Vol. 215 No. 1 (1965).

Dashiell Hammett, on the other hand, was one of the few writers I have known who had all the earmarks of genius and the temperament which goes with it. For a brief period he was a Pinkerton detective, and because of this experience, he dazzled credulous editors with a presumably encyclopedic knowledge of the underworld.

Dashiell was also a fast hand with a dictionary of criminalese and had a vast knowledge of the editorial psychology. Heaven knows how these dictionaries of the underworld are composed. Undoubtedly they represent considerable research, but how much of this research is done on the ground and how much in a library?

When Hammett started writing, there was a dictionary of the underworld which used the word "shamus" as a tag for a private detective. Hammett picked that word up, and it ran through all his stories. Every time one of his detectives would enter on the scene, someone would sneeringly refer to him as shamus. Since Hammett's time, a whole school of realistic writers have had their characters refer to a private detective as a shamus.

Just where did that word come from? I have made it a point to try and find out and I am completely baffled. The late Raymond Schindler, one of the world-famous private detectives, told me he had never heard the word. At my request, he had asked private detectives whom he employed, and they had never heard it used. I asked the wardens of various pentitentiaries, and they told me they had never encountered the word except in fiction. During the past eighteen years, I have had quite a few contacts with inmates of penitentiaries. I have asked them about "shamus" and whether they had ever heard it applied to a private detective. Not one of them ever had.

Then one day I happened to be discussing the matter with a man who had worked for a Jewish haberdasher, and he told me had had heard the word used; it applied not to a private detective but to some kind of phony. No matter; thanks to Dashiell, the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo lists "shamus" as a Jewish-American word meaning a policeman or prison guard, and the American Thesaurus of Slang lists it as applying to a policeman, an informer, or a stool pigeon.

February 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

part 2...

It has been many years since Dashiell Hammett first put the word into circulation. Today the general reading public considers "shamus" a slang term customarily used by the underworld describing the private detective. It assumes that the writer who uses it knows his way around.

At first, Editor [Captain Joseph T.] Shaw and Dashiell Hammett didn't hit it off. Hammett became enraged over a rejection by Shaw and quit writing for Black Mask. I was in New York at the time, and after conferring with Shaw, wrote Hammett a letter pleading with him to return to the fold.

Later on, of course, after the fame of The Maltese Falcon, Hammett could do no wrong. Captain Shaw not only went all out for Hammett but tried to get writers to follow the Hammett style. One of my big differences with Shaw came when I accused him of trying to "Hammettize" the magazine.

However, before Hammett and Shaw had become such buddies, Hammett wrote a story which contained an expression that gave Shaw quite a jolt. He deleted it from the manuscript and wrote Hammett a chiding letter to the effect that Black Mask would never publish vulgarities of any sort.

Hammett promptly wrote a story in which he laid a deliberate trap for Joe Shaw.

One of the characters in the story, meeting another one, asked him what he was doing these days, and the other shamefacedly admitted that he was "on the gooseberry lay."

Had the editor known it, this meant simply that the character was making his living by stealing clothes from clotheslines, preferably on a Monday morning. The expression goes back to the old days of the tramp who from time to time needed a few pennies to buy food. He would wait until the housewife had put out her wash; then he would descend on the clothesline, pick up an armful of clothes, and scurry away to sell them.

Shaw had the reaction which Hammett had expected. He wrote Hammett telling him that he was deleting the "gooseberry lay" from the story, that Black Mask would never publish anything like that. But he left the word "gunsel" because Hammett had used it so casually that Shaw took it for granted that the word pertained to a hired gunman. Actually, "gunsel," or "gonzel," is a very naughty word with no relation whatever to a bodyguard, a gunman, or a torpedo.

What happened?

All of the writers of the hard-boiled school of realism started talking about a gunsel as the equivalent of a gunman. The usage has persisted. Recently, a magazine of national circulation, featuring the death of a gunman, described it on the cover as "The Short, Bitter Life of a Gunsel."

A few years ago, I read a book purportedly written by a man who enjoyed a firsthand contact with the underworld, a story of stark realism. The author continually referred to the gunmen as "gunsels."

It has been at least thirty-five years since Dashiell Hammett played his little joke on Captain Joseph Shaw, but the aftereffects of that joke are still seen in American murder stories.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Who is this Hemingway person at all?" And Marlowe replies: "A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be giood."

That's very nice. Also, with respect to Chandler's remark about "comfort stations," I wonder if he had a streak of Puritanism in him I read The Big Sleep, and I was surprised by the disgust he has Marlowe express when he leafs through a book dropped off by one of Geiger's customers. Sure, one does not expect descriptions like one would get today, but I think Chandler may even have Marlowe use the word "filth" in his description. I could be wrong about that, but the tone is devcidedly one of disgust.

"Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons,

That's probably Chandler's most-quoted non-fiction bit after the "mean streets" line. I'd always understood that Chandler revered and respected Hammett above all other writers, so to hear the Hemingway-invented-hardboiled assertion in a program devoted to Chandler was jarring. Perhaps it even demanded more explanation than one might otherwise expect from a program devoted neither to Hammett nor to Hemingway.

Adrian McKinty has put up a post about The Lady in the Lake. You might want to take a look.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Others have tried to relate shamusto the Irish name Seamus or to the Hebrew (and, I think, Yiddish, too) shamash. I'm not sure any of this makes much of a difference.

I like some of what Gardber had to say, and I suspect the two men liked each other. Hammett pays tribute to Gardner in I can't remember which one of the lost stories, I think by naming a lawyer for him.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for documentation on gunsel. You're an angel.

(I think gansel may be more accurate transcription of the Yiddish, by the way. It means gosling literally, so its slang usage is not hard to understand.)

February 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I wonder if he had a streak of Puritanism in him."

Yes, absolutely. You can take the Victorian man out of England and plant him in the mean streets of L.A. but you can't take the Victorian out of the man.

I think a streak of puritanism is rather in character for the Marlowe-as-knight. The Marlowe who rips the sheets off his bed after booting that naked succubus Carmen out of his apartment in The Big Sleep. The Marlowe who nearly weeps upon finding one of Linda's long black hairs in his bed in The Long Goodbye.

Chandler was deeply romantic, in love with the idea of love, of ideal love.

But I guess I don't mind RTC's puritanism so much because I have a streak of it in me, too. I think the world is a foul sty, as Joseph Cotten says in "Shadow of a Doubt," and getting coarser, cruder, and more vulgar by the day.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Just to play devils advocate for a moment, I think what made Hemmingway a more interesting writer than either Chandler or Hammett or any of the precursors is that his style evolved so much over his lifetime. He was constantly experimentating with style throughout his career. Garden of Eden which is completely unlike The Sun Also Rises which is utterly unlike For Whom The Bell Tolls.

In Hammett's five novel career we see that same creative power - Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man are completely different, but Hammett for whatever reason, stopped writing. If he had continued into the 1960's he might have won the Nobel Prize not Hemmingway.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, Uncle Charlie is one scary dude. I imagine you, Joseph Cotten and Raymond Chandler riding in on three horses to rid the world of its foulness. Who would he fourth horseman be?

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know the horses would be well taken care of!

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I haven't read a lot of Hemingway (some Nick Adams stories years ago, and "A Farewell to Arms" not quite so many years ago), but what you say is plausible. John Sutherland says, after all, that Hemingway more or less dropped hard-boiled after "The Killers." But the question isn't who was a better or more interesting writer, it's who invented hard-boiled, And I don't see an argument that Hemingway did that.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Well if thats the debate then I'm afraid everyone may be wrong. They need to go back and read Jack London's Klondike stories.


http://www.amazon.com/Klondike-Tales-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/037575685X#reader_037575685X

Check out page 1 of The White Silence on the Amazon preview above.

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jack London's name came up in a bit of reading I did before or duing this discussion. In some of his stories, the protagonist gets cold, really cold. Hmm, that happens in some of David Goodis's stories, too, and he wrote noir, so ...

February 10, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

The forgotten influence on the hardboiled style of writing is the hobo narrative, of which Jim Tully's were the most popular.

I think that Jack London's name is appropriate being dropped here, in this discussion, because it speaks to that to some extent because of his own contributions to the hobo narrative body of work.

Hobo narratives are largely forgotten today so their influence on American letters often goes unrecognized. When you switch from macro to micro and take a look at the formation of a style/genre/sub-genre the influence is even more forgotten.

February 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the brief vogue for proletarian crime writing in, I guess, the 1930s was a late flowering of hobo stories. I've read just one or two of those proletarian stories in crime-fiction anthologies, and I don't remember the authors' names. But one was set in a migrant workers' camp, and it was a bit (no, a lot) too solemn for my taste, like a do-gooding documentary.

February 12, 2011  

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